Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Efforts to legalize assisted suicide may be one cause for high suicide rates


Dec. 4, 2012

Your article, “Cowboy culture’ factor in Montana’s high suicide rate” (Nov. 25-27), discusses possible reasons for that high rate. A reason I did not see discussed is the active and ongoing push to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Montana.

I am a doctor in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal. In Oregon, physician-assisted suicide means that a physician facilitates a patient’s suicide by providing a lethal prescription. In Oregon, our law also allows family members to participate in the suicide, for example, by helping with the lethal dose request process and by picking up the lethal dose at the pharmacy. Physician-assisted suicide is sometimes called “aid in dying.“

Oregon’s overall suicide rate, which excludes suicide under our assisted suicide act, is 35 percent above the national average. This rate has been “increasing significantly” since 2000. Just three years prior, in 1997, Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide. This statistical correlation is consistent with a suicide contagion in which the normalization of one type of suicide encouraged other suicides.

In 2011, a bill similar to Oregon’s law was proposed and defeated in the Montana Legislature. I understand that another bill will be proposed this coming legislative session. With this active promotion of physician-assisted suicide, there is the possibility of a normalization process similar to what appears to have taken place in Oregon. If so, this is another factor in Montana’s high rate of suicide.

I hope that you will encourage your legislators to keep assisted suicide out of Montana. Don’t make our mistake.

William L. Toffler,
Professor of family medicine,
Oregon Health & Science University,
National director and board member,
Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation,
Portland, Ore.

Montana has not legalized assisted suicide


December 02, 2012 12:00 am
A recent AP article which appeared Nov. 16 in most major newspapers in our state incorrectly stated that Montana is the third state to allow assisted suicide, along with Washington and Oregon. Attorneys Greg Jackson and Matt Bowman did an extensive analysis of the case and concluded it "did not legalize assisted suicide and it continues to carry both criminal and civil liability for any doctor, institution, or lay person involved." The Montana Lawyer, the official publication of the Montana State Bar concluded the issue is open to argument, confirming that the Legislature needs to clarify the issue this coming session.

Your readership needs to know that there are problems inherent in passing a law that would allow a physician to kill their patient. People need to understand that we are talking about a physician writing a prescription for the express purpose of one taking their own life. The very oath that physicians take in stepping into this profession states that they "shall do no harm." Their purpose is to cure, to heal, to provide comfort and care at the end of life, but not to aid in facilitating the end of that life through active means. Physicians are fallible human beings and often are wrong in their prognosis concerning how long a patient will survive their illness. Often, it is depression that prompts one to think that life is not worth living or perhaps the feeling that because of their illness they are a burden to their family. The whole matter is a recipe for elder abuse.

I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight and hope that The Gazette will continue to report on this vital topic.

David W Hafer, DDS, MS

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Assisted suicide may not bring peace to either terminally ill or their families

November 30, 2012 6:15 am  
This letter is a follow up to your recent (Nov. 16) article on assisted suicide and the Montana Medical Board.
A study was recently released in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal (“Death by request in Switzerland: Posttraumatic stress disorder and complicated grief after witnessing assisted suicide,” B. Wagner, J. Muller, A. Maercker; European Psychiatry 27 (2012) 542-546, available at http://choiceisanillusion.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/family-members-traumatized-eur-psych-2012.pdf). The study found that 1 out of 5 family members or friends present at an assisted suicide were traumatized. These persons “experienced full or sub-threshold (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) related to the loss of a close person through assisted suicide.”

This study is consistent with what I have observed with my law practice clients whose parents participated in the Washington/Oregon death with dignity acts (assisted suicide). With one client, one branch of the family wanted the parent to use the lethal dose, while the other did not. The parent spent much of his final days traumatized and struggling over the decision of whether or not to kill himself. This was instead of making the best of the time that he had left. My client was also traumatized. In that case, the parent did not use assisted suicide and died a natural death.

With another case, it’s unclear that the parent’s assisted-suicide death was voluntary. My client lives with that memory.

Legal assisted suicide is sold as a peaceful and loving death. It may be anything but.

Margaret Dore, Seattle WA

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Senator Jim Shockley: Assisted suicide not legal


Brad Williams is correct that assisted-suicide is not legal in Montana. (Legalization could lead to abuse). The Montana Supreme Court's assisted-suicide case, Baxter v. State, limited its holding to giving doctors who assist a suicide a potential defense if those doctors are charged with homicide for the death of their patients. There are several steps that the doctor must demonstrate to perfect the defense.

Baxter did not invalidate our homicide statutes. Baxter did not overrule our case law allowing family members to sue an attending physician for negligence, malpractice, or wrongful death.

As an attorney in private practice, I did my share of wills, probates and estates. I observed that some heirs did not care as much for the elderly as they did for the elderly person's assets.

With the legalization of assisted-suicide, heirs would be encouraged to suggest, cajole or coerce older people to kill themselves, i.e., before such persons are able to change their wills, give their money to charity or simply spend it. Legal assisted suicide is a recipe for elder abuse.

Jim Shockley
Senate District 45